If I ever run a “Best 6th place team in the divisional era” tournament I’m taking the ‘79 Tribe. In a 7 team division the Tribe managed to finish a game over .500 and 22 back of the division winning O’s. For most teams this would have been just another ho-hum year that no one bothered to care about, but not in Cleveland, where one pundit described pennant fever as a “48 hour bug”. During the 70’s the Tribe was the epitome of mediocrity. Ok, they weren’t even mediocre. In fact they were downright dreadful for most of the decade and barely finished over .500 just twice (76 and 79). The team started out 43-52, which earned manager Jeff Torborg the right to be fired after dropping both ends of a Sunday July 22nd twin bill (do they play these anymore ?) to the Brewers. Dave Garcia replaced Torborg and the team went 38-28 the rest of the way to post a winning record and give Tribe fans false hope that there was something to build on here.
Bobby Bonds, who by this point had a new team every season, paced the Tribe offense by hitting 25 homers with a .275 average. He also stole 34 bases and I bet he could have posted another 30-30 season if he didn’t play in the cavernous Mistake by the Lake. Toby Harrah it .279 and chipped in with 20 homers in virtual anonymity. Most folks don’t realize that he was the first of the “big shortstops” who could field his position and hit for power. He even made MLB’s Prime 9 all decade team. The pitching was horrible, but no one expected it not to be. Free agent bust Wayne Garland was 4-10. Rick Wise (15-10, 3.73) was the lone man standing in the rotation with an ERA under 4.00. Sid Monge (12-10, 2.40, 19 sv) was the bullpen.
Editor’s Note: Not a lot to say here about this motley crew. I love the action shot of Ron Hassey that Jim R sent me. I envision him picking up a bunt and looking to throw to second only to find that no one covered. This is the 1970’s Indians you know. I love the irony in the Cliff Johnson photo. He’s got his catcher’s mitt on, yet he was the team’s DH in 71 of his 72 games played after being acquired on June 15th in a trade with the Yankees for Don Hood. This might have been the one deal that they made with the Bronx Bombers during the 70’s where they got the upper hand. Sadly for the Yanks when they tragically lost their captain (Thurman Munson) in a tragic plane crash, they might have been able to use Johnson behind the plate. Instead they trotted out a string of minor leaguers, has been’s and never was-es and finished 4th, not far ahead of the Tribe.